With returning starters Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens making up the entire list of veterans back for the Tigers, the need for several young players to step up has been a big sticking point so far in the preseason.
"It's really tough at linebacker right now with the depth being so thin but at the same time day in and day out we have to do what we have to do at each position and go fast and go hard and be physical," Bynes said. "You can't really worry about injuries because they are going to come. Regardless of what happens you've still got to go out there and perform."
One of the players that Bynes said is making progress every day is freshman Jonathan Evans. The younger brother of Chris Evans, who played for the Tigers through 2008, this Evans has the same physical characteristics and can run sideline to sideline. With decent size and a nose for the ball, Bynes said he's one of the guys that they're looking for to provide some depth this fall.
"He's slowly picking up the defense but obviously as a freshman it's very difficult learning the plays and the techniques and the things with each play," Bynes said. "He's slowly learning but he's getting there. He's not his brother yet but he's slowly getting it. I think he's coming along pretty good."
Currently Evans is working at both the strong and weak linebacker along with several other players including fellow freshman Harris Gaston. Bynes said the positions are inter-changeable so they're trying to get players as familiar with both spots as possible. On the weak side Freeman has been penciled in as the likely starter since an impressive spring put him with the first team.
This fall though he's been bothered by the injury bug as a sore hamstring and a bandaged right hand have kept him out of the last week of practice. Bynes said while he hasn't been on the field, it hasn't kept Freeman from being a part of things in practice.
"He's hanging in there tough," Bynes said. "Sometimes you can see him on film mimicking the plays. He'll be way back behind and shuffling like he's actually playing. He's in tune throughout the whole practice. He's fired up about it. When we're out there he's always screaming trying to make sure we're into the practice and he can feel like he's out there. He wants to be out there bad."
Counting on so many newcomers and inexperienced players to play key roles this fall on defense, Bynes said it has meant a lot more in the way of a leadership role for both he and Stevens in the preseason.
"We have to teach them a lot more," Bynes said. "We've been here a few years so we have to show them the ropes of how we learn. Of course we're expecting them to do things fast because we know it and it's easy but at the same time we sometimes have to be patient. Being the two veterans we try to push them. In every drill we do we lead it off and show them how it's done. Me and Craig are trying to team up and make sure we get everybody on the same page."
With two scrimmages under their belts and at least one more likely before the attention turns to Louisiana Tech, Bynes said he's not happy with how the defense has played and it's his goal to see that it doesn't continue.
"We didn't execute as well and we weren't as physical as we wanted to be," Bynes said. "That just shows that we need to get more physical and more serious about what we're doing in practice and take accountability for everybody's actions."